The results of Brendan Howlin's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are expected to be announced in September. That review will give us a clear insight into how determined this government is to cut waste and keep taxes as low as possible. However, I have some concerns about the CSR and the lack of external expertise being utilised to identify and eliminate waste.
Brendan Howlin is a pretty impressive politician but has zero experience in business. He was a primary school teacher and INTO activist before becoming a full-time politician. Howlin is also a member of the Government's Economic Management Council. This four man team will presumably sign-off on the CSR before it goes to Cabinet for final approval. The Economic Management Council is made up of An Taoiseach (Teacher), Tanaiste (trade union activist), Michael Noonan (Teacher) and Howlin (Teacher & trade unionist).
The lack of business expertise at a political level would not be a problem if the advisors working on the CSR had the expertise to compensate for it but that isn't clear at all. The main civil servant responsible for CSR is a guy called Robert Watt. He is an economist with some private sector experience (with Indecon) but it seems that responsibility for the CSR has largely been left with the Department of Finance - the Dept that brought us benchmarking, inflation busting welfare increases, property tax breaks and the bank guarantee.
I can find no evidence that the CSR has engaged private sector experts in ICT - harnessing new technology to cut costs, change management or "turn-around" experts, guys (or girls) with real-life experience of rescuing organisations in trouble.
Now, I think there is enough "obvious" fat in the public sector and the CSR will have no trouble identifying it but we should be using this economic crisis as an opportunity to create a public sector that is fit for the 21st century. I hope this is not an opportunity missed. I guess we'll know in September.
Appointment of Robert Watt as Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform - Department of Finance - Government of Ireland
Howlin plans public spending review - The Irish Times - Thu, Mar 24, 2011